Nicole Atkins – Memphis Ice (Album Review)

In 2020 New Jersey born Singer-Songwriter Nicole Atkins release Italian Ice, best described as a charming, chaotic album chock-full of personality and passion. Now, a little over a year later, she is back with Memphis Ice, released on Friday, December 10th via Single Lock Records.

To avoid any confusion, Memphis Ice is not an album of new material, but instead a companion album to Italian Ice. What does that mean? It means that unfortunately Atkins was unable to tour behind the new material of Italian Ice due to the pandemic which resulted in her spending time hosting virtual events from her home to present the music. Fortunately in that time she found new inspiration to present these tracks in a different light than how they were originally recorded. In this she takes the impeccably well-written songs and brings them back to basics with less production and more of a live feeling that offerings an even more vulnerable listening experience. 

Recorded with Dan Chen (piano), Laura Epling (violin), and Maggie Chaffee (cello), the album was impressively created live in just one day at the classic analog recording facility Memphis Magnetic studio. Now, as we all know Atkins has been making music for nearly two decades and her main music influences come from the ’50s, ’60s, psychedelic as well as Soul music. Evident in all her previous work, it extremely amplified with Memphis Ice.  

It all begins with soft strokes of piano playing on “Captain,”somber song about a rescue at sea, and of course love, like most of the album. Then there is the delightful fresh take on “Mind Eraser” that will sway back and forth, plus “St. Dymphna” and “Far From Home.” This is while Atkins somehow makes “A Road To Nowhere” even more beautiful and heartbreaking before the hopeful tone of “Forever.”

Keeping with the same mood, “These Old Roses” is heavy on emotion while “Promised Land” possesses a new intensity that will dig deep under your skin. Finally, “In The Splinters” closes out the album with a loaded heart as Atkins leaves you behind in a void with the song’s abrupt ending. 

Memphis Ice is a true singer-songwriter album, with only Atkins’ voice and acoustic instrumentation accompanying her. Saturated mostly with the keys of the piano and her voice, only sometimes you can catch a soft violin or cello hiding in the background. There is no noise, no effects, and nothing to distract the listener…just the pure voice and music. It is a brilliant take on the already strong songs that made up Italian Ice, and because of the stripped down approach, the lyrics somehow feel even more heavy.  An album to get lost in and forget everything around you, Cryptic Rock gives the refreshing Memphis Ice 5 out of 5 stars. 

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